Electrician on job site falls from roof-access ladder. $5.2 million. Yuba County.

Summary

Electrician falls to concrete floor from roof-access ladder, says it was unsafe. Severe leg and back injury.

The Case

  • Case Name: Joanne Turner v. Sundt Construction Inc., et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Yuba County Superior Court / YCSCCVPO12-0000556
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, July 01, 2016
  • Date Action was Filed: Monday, June 11, 2012
  • Type of Action: Construction Site Accident
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Stephen W. Berrier
  • Plaintiffs:
    Joanne Turner, 47, electrician.
  • Defendants:
    Capitol Iron Works, Inc.
    Sundt Construction, Inc.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $5,263,486
  • Economic Damages:

    $1,938,486

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $3,325,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 12 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.
  • Jury Polls: 10-2 on economic damages; 9-3 on non-economic damages.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: No post-trial motions were filed in this matter, and the verdict has been paid.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP by Roger A. Dreyer and Christopher W. Wood, Sacramento.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Jones & Dyer by Gregory F. Dyer and Jonathan C. Hsieh, Sacramento.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Carol Hyland, M.A., M.S., C.D.M.S., C.L.C.P, life care planning, Lafayette.

    Plaintiff's treating providers.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Andrew M. O'Brien, M.S., C.R.C, vocational rehabilitation, Sacramento.

    Peter Sfakianos, M.D., medical examiner, Folsom.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Richard Barnes, C.P.A, A.B.V, C.F.F., economics, Sacramento.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Margo Rich Ogus, Ph.D., economics, Mountain View.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    This matter arises out of a construction site incident that occurred on May 2, 2011, in the Health and Safety Building at Yuba Community College. Defendant Sundt Construction, Inc. was the general contractor and responsible for overall construction of the building. Sundt Construction, Inc. contracted with defendant Capitol Iron Works, Inc. to construct and install a 20-foot tall roof-access ladder in the building.

    Plaintiff was employed by L&H Airco and was performing electrical work on the roof of the Health and Safety Building. She claims to have fallen while she was descending the ladder due to the defendants' failure to apply a required non-slip coating on the ladder steps and clean the ladder of sheet rock dust. She fell approximately 15 feet to the concrete floor, suffering multiple injuries.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff claimed all medical treatment was related to the incident. Plaintiff incurred medical expenses in the amount of $380,000. Plaintiff claimed future medical costs including spine and knee surgeries. Plaintiff claimed she was unable to return to work and that she had a loss of income that would exceed $1 million.

     

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendants contested liability until after the depositions of their management personnel were completed. After those depositions and the deposition of plaintiff’s construction safety expert, Steven Wexler, P.E., defendants admitted liability.

    Defendants admitted that the ladder was negligently constructed and managed by the defendants, and that they were solely responsible for the injuries sustained by plaintiff. Defendants admitted they caused plaintiff’s damages but disputed the nature and extent of those claims and contended that she would be able to return to work to a job that would ultimately pay as much as she made as an electrician. Defendants made these admissions and stipulations as to liability in the weeks leading up to trial.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Plaintiff suffered from injuries to her lumbar spine, an L2 burst fracture, a fracture of the right femur, bilateral knee injuries, and a right foot fracture.

    The day after being admitted to the hospital plaintiff underwent open reduction with fixation of her femur fracture and a retrograde nail was inserted into her right knee. Plaintiff was hospitalized for seven days, after which she was transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where she stayed for 12 more days.

    After being discharged, she was non-weight bearing for approximately ten weeks and wore a hard shell TLSO back brace for approximately three months. Plaintiff’s injuries to her knees persisted and she underwent a left knee arthroscopy on April 1, 2013 and an arthroscopic meniscal repair and chondroplasty of her right knee on August 11, 2014.

    Plaintiff also had continued complaints of headaches and lumbar pain radiating down her right hip and leg. On October 21, 2013, plaintiff received a lumbar interlaminer epidural steroid injection. Following the procedure, plaintiff reported that her lower back pain was still significant and present. On July 2, 2015, Plaintiff underwent a posterolateral fusion, anterior lumbar interbody discectomy and fusion, with posterior pedicle screw instrumentation at the L4-5 level of her lumbar spine.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $380,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: Plaintiff claimed future medical costs including spine and knee surgeries.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $337,680
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1,000,000

Additional Notes

Insurer: Zurich.

 

Per plaintiff's counsel:

This matter went through mediation on April 22, 2016, right before trial. The mediation was held in front of Nick Lowe, a mediator out of Sacramento. Settlement discussions at mediation are confidential, but it was clear that it failed.

Defendants served a CCP § 998 offer 10 days before trial for $3.5 million. Defense provided no valid written offer above that amount. Plaintiff indicated if the $5 million policy limits (limit given by Zurich on Answers to Interrogatories) from Zurich was tendered, the case would settle. The policy was never tendered.

In terms of the trial, the defense argued for $2 million, not $3 million. The numbers suggested to the jury by plaintiff's counsel were not precise, depended on the jury interpretation of the medical testimony, and if the various scenarios were summed together, may have come to $18 million, but that amount was not suggested nor expected in whole.

Per defense counsel:

Plaintiff made a CCP 998 offer of $5.95 million before trial and after mediation. They never made an offer less than $5.8 million. The defense’s last offer was $4.5 million. There were multiple policy limits in play, and $5 million was not a ceiling on coverage. In closing arguments, plaintiff asked for over $18 million. Defense suggested $2-3 million in closing.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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